No matter how the rest of 2021 turns out, we’ve probably already witnessed the core event of the season. The Kansas City Royals stormed out of the gate and, at the end of April, stood at 15-9 with the best record in the American League. But after getting their 16th win on May 1, it would be until May 14 until the Royals would pick up their 17th. The sandwich filling in between was a giant glob of a disgusting, Marmite-and-cheese 11-game losing streak.
It shouldn’t really be surprising to anyone who plays attention to baseball that things often change quickly at the beginning of the season. A Major League Baseball season consists of 162 games and lasts six months of the year. It is, as I said during the first week of the season, a marathon. Let’s see what I wrote:
This year is going to be different. How different they’ll be is a matter of opinion, but it’s within the realm of possibility that the Royals will win somewhere between 15 and 25 more games than they did in 2018. That’s a lot of wins! And that excitement, combined with the general excitement that happens every time a new baseball season starts, encourages overreaction.
But don’t get pulled in.
Does this seem like a silly thing to address? Absolutely. Baseball fans know that the regular season is 162 games long. Is it important to address? Again, absolutely. We can know something is true but not feel that it’s true. As the phrase goes: it’s hard not to be romantic about baseball. It’s equally hard not to get drawn in by a combination of narrative and newness.
We won’t know if the Royals are a playoff team or on their way to another single-digit draft position this week. We won’t know it this month. And we won’t know it next month, either.
Fast forward three weeks, and everyone lost their minds. The Royals played well, sure, but got lucky and topped out in the low single-digits in run differential. Their fall was inevitable, but not before local media started talking about playoff contention and writers at national publications were intrigued enough to discuss how the Royals were “set up for the future” (despite one of the oldest position player groups in baseball) and how “Twenty-eight days is a pretty long time.”
Surprising no one who was paying attention or who knew what run differential was and how it worked, however, the Royals regressed. Shocker! And It’s really not hard to see why.
In the first month and a half, the Royals have given a combined 439 plate appearances to Nicky Lopez, Michael A. Taylor, Hanser Alberto, Ryan O’Hearn, Jarrod Dyson, and Cam Gallagher, whose career wRC+ are 61, 79, 76, 87, 78, and 74, respectively. That a team that has given so many plate appearances to so many guys with long histories of below average offensive production is having problems scoring? Say it isn’t so! That a team that has given 42 innings to four bullpen arms making close to the league minimum and whose average age is 35 has had bullpen depth issues? Crazy!
I am not telling you that you cannot enjoy the Royals when they are good or be frustrated when they are bad. Rather, I am telling you that overreacting to one month—good or bad—gets you nowhere. Sure, if you derive pleasure from oscillating wildly between extreme excitement and dejection, good for you; have at it. But big league players will be the first to tell you that it’s a long season, and worrying about short stretches of time is worse in the long run.
In other words, let’s all agree not to overthink a hot month—but we have to not overthink big losing streaks, too. Waiting is part of the game.